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15-year-old Daniel Hegarty deserves justice

He was shot twice in the head in Derry in 1972 – but the man facing charges for his murder claims facing trial is a breach of his human rights. When will his family get the answers they need, asks RICHARD RUDKIN

IMAGINE if a former republican or loyalist terrorist had been held on suspicion of shooting a 15-year-old boy in 1972, and after an investigation, it was agreed there was enough evidence to charge the suspect with murder. 

But then his legal team lodged an appeal on the grounds that to charge him breached his human rights. What would your reaction be?

After thinking this was some sort of sick joke maybe, a feeling of anger would no doubt follow, especially for the relatives of the boy. 

You would imagine there would be media coverage, with MPs from all political groups demanding justice be done — and no right-minded person could argue with that point of view. 

If that is the case, then why is it different when a former soldier who has been charged with the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty, shot twice in the head in Derry in 1972, claims his human rights have been breached because his health wasn’t taken into consideration when the decision was made to charge him?

Why is there no political or media outcry on this side of the Irish Sea? Or is the value of a child’s life measured in accordance with who committed the crime? 

Of course the question I ask is rhetorical, for everyone knows that it isn’t wise for any Westminster politician of any party to be critical of the armed forces past or present. 

That’s why the families in the north of Ireland have had to wait for years not to get justice, but to begin the process of trying to obtain justice.

Families of those killed on Bloody Sunday are a prime example. After being subjected to the whitewash of the Widgerytribunal in 1972, it took many more years of campaigning before those who were shot dead were completely exonerated and the blame placed squarely at the feet of the British army. 

It was only then that the prime minister David Cameron apologised to the families, saying: “You can’t defend the indefensible,” and Cameron was right. 

However if this government has its way, it is doubtful that Boris Johnson will ever need to apologise for past crimes by the security forces in the north of Ireland. Not because they never occurred but because the intention appears to be, where possible, to prevent the truth ever being heard. 

Speaking on the subject recently, Johnson said: “We will certainly be going forward with our manifesto commitment to ensure there are no further unfair prosecutions of people who served their country when there is no new evidence to be brought forward.” 

An interesting choice of words from the Prime Minister. Words that the mainstream media failed to pick up on or chose not to. 

When Johnson talks about there being “no new evidence” he demonstrates how ignorant he is on this subject, for in the majority of cases, the evidence presented wasn’t new, but was there all the time. 

The problem was the evidence was either ignored, the incident poorly investigated or, it has to be said, covered up by “state players.” 

Johnson must also be challenged on his use of the words “no further,” which would suggest some cases have already occurred. Maybe the Prime Minister could outline which cases in his opinion he would deem as “unfair”? 

Was it the decision to prosecute the soldier who shot John Pat Cunningham three times in the back as he ran away from an army patrol in County Armagh in 1974?  

Or maybe it was the soldier facing prosecution for the alleged killing of the two unarmed civilians, James Wrayand William McKinney, and the attempted murder of four other unarmed civilians on Bloody Sunday?

However, Iain Duncan Smith was more direct in calling for immediate legislation to prevent the prosecution of veterans, claiming that so far there had been what he described as “vexatious fishing expeditions and arresting veterans and putting them through the mill.”

Do Duncan Smith, the British government or any of the Westminster MPs really believe that the families of those killed in “questionable” circumstances during the Troubles wanted to spend years, in some cases decades, of their lives fighting to find out the truth behind the circumstances as to why their loved ones died? 

Duncan Smith’s ignorance comes to the fore, for he should know that it is not the families but the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland that takes the decision to proceed with a prosecution. Therefore it is unlikely that they would bring charges with insufficient grounds, just to be vexatious.

To attribute the word “vexatious” to families of the victims is nothing short of offensive. It implies they are looking for revenge. 

However, if any of the government ministers took the time to listen to the families, they might begin to understand the situation without making assumptions about their motives.

What constitutes justice may well be different for each family. From those I have spoken with, it is not about ensuring a former British soldier is locked away for life, nor is it about monetary compensation. How could it be? How can you put a price on the loss of a parent or a child? You simply can’t.

However, I would suggest what all the families do have in common is the need to know the reason why their loved ones died, including the true circumstances behind their death, and, if appropriate, an admission that the victim was unarmed, was not a member of a terrorist group and where necessary, their names cleared and records amended accordingly.

Whether or not the human rights of the British soldier have been breached is a matter for the courts to decide. 

However what isn’t in doubt is that Daniel Hegarty’s family deserve better, they deserve fairness, honesty and peace — but possibly more importantly, a 15-year-old boy who had his human rights taken away by two bullets deserves justice.

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